Current State of International Accessibility Standards

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Outside of the US, nearly 2-dozen countries have laws or policies which prevent disparate access to EIT/ ICT. Like the United States, they’re often part of a specific law or policy aimed at reducing discrimination against individuals with disabilities, and not specific to only EIT. In some cases, the policies are applicable only to the government’s websites. It is rare for any country’s anti-discrimination legislation to specifically mention accessible EIT, but rather mirror, in spirit, the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, or both.

Countries with Laws or Regulations Covering Accessible EIT

  • United States
  • Australia
  • Belgium
  • Canada
  • Denmark
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Hong Kong
  • India
  • Ireland
  • Israel
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Korea
  • Luxemburg
  • Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Portugal
  • Spain
  • Switzerland
  • United Kingdom

European Union

There are multiple efforts throughout the European Union relating to the accessibility of ICT. Of Note:

  • The European i2010 Initiative on e-Inclusion and the September 2007 Lisbon Ministerial Declaration on eGovernment both call on Europe’s public bodies to significantly reinforce their inclusive eGovernment and eParticipation policies.
  • As indicated above, most EU/ G20 countries have legislation or policies relating to accessibility. At the moment, all (or nearly all) of them mandate either full or partial conformance with WCAG (discussed below). Currently few countries have migrated to using WCAG 2.0 as a measure of conformance, but many are expected to be updated so that they are harmonized with WCAG 2.0 in the near future.

United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is an international human rights instrument of the United Nations intended to protect the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities. Parties to the Convention are required to promote, protect, and ensure the full enjoyment of human rights by persons with disabilities and ensure that they enjoy full equality under the law.
The Convention stresses that persons with disabilities should be able to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life. To this end, States Parties should take appropriate measures to ensure that persons with disabilities have access, to the physical environment, to transportation, to information and communications, and to other facilities and services open or provided to the public.

The text was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 13 December 2006 and opened for signature on 30 March 2007. Following ratification by the 20th party, it came into force on 3 May 2008. As of December 13, 2009, it has 143 signatories and 76 parties The Convention is monitored by the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is a body of human rights experts tasked with monitoring the implementation of the Convention. It will initially consist of 12 independent human rights experts, with half elected for a two-year term and half elected for four-years.

Article 33 explains that States must set up some sort of independent monitoring mechanism – which usually takes the form of an independent national human rights institution.

The United States signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) at United Nations Headquarters, July 30, 2009 (Note: this has not been “ratified” by the US, as ratification must be advised and consented to by a two-thirds vote in the Senate. )


The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are part of a series of Web accessibility guidelines published by the W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative. They consist of a set of guidelines on making content accessible. The first version of WCAG (Version 1.0) were published and became a W3C recommendation on May 5, 1999. As mentioned above, nearly all of the international policies and regulations make reference to, or incorporate the WCAG. In fact, the United States Section 508 web provisions (1194.22) are almost completely harmonized with WCAG 1.0’s Priority 1 guidelines.

WCAG 1.0 has three priority levels:

  • Priority 1: Web developers must satisfy these requirements.
  • Priority 2: Web developers should satisfy these requirements.
  • Priority 3: Web developers may satisfy these requirements.

WCAG 2.0

WCAG 2.0 was published as a W3C Recommendation on December 11, 2008. Like the Section 508 Refresh, the update to WCAG was necessary to bring the guidelines up to date with current technologies. This revised set of guidelines was created to be more future-proof, more testable, and more reflective of “real world” accessibility than the prior version.

While WCAG 1.0 was often criticized for being vague, riddled with jargon, and difficult to test. During development of version 2.0, the WCAG Working Group attempted to overcome these issues by providing guidelines that are more well-defined (i.e. “1.4.3 Contrast (Minimum): The visual presentation of text and images of text has a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1”) and by providing extensive documentation on how to understand the guidelines as well as detailed success & failure criteria.

Internationally, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are used as the basis for most Web Accessibility policies and regulations (for countries which have them). As of this writing, WCAG 1.0 is still the standard against which most countries are harmonized. However, a number of countries are currently working on revisions which will harmonize with WCAG 2.0:

  • New Zealand (completed)
  • India (completed)
  • Netherlands
  • Japan
  • Germany
  • France
  • Belgium
  • Italy
  • Israel

Find out more about how to manage compliance with WCAG and other international regulations in an upcoming blog post.

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